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Chambersburg Masons refurbish lodge structure

September 20, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
  • George Washington Lodge 143 Free and Accepted Masons in Chambersburg, Pa.
Photo by Jennifer Fitch,

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The Masons lodge in Chambersburg survived the town's burning in 1864, a few hurricanes and changes made all around it, but the events of 187 years can wear on a structure.

The community's nearly 700 Masons are facing a building renovation and rehabilitation project estimated to cost $1 million. The most pressing need -- a structurally unsound, sagging roof -- was fixed in recent months.

The roof issue originated within the 1899 addition to the original structure from 1823.

"We knew this was happening but did not immediately react to it. We didn't think it was as bad as it was," said Larry Miller, a building trustee.

The George Washington Lodge No. 143 Free and Accepted Masons had to get creative to fix the roof.

They added steel along the wall down into the first floor and beams across the ceiling. It's not the easiest task in a downtown building lined with stained-glass windows.

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It was through "careful engineering and the grace of God" that the beams fit into place, Miller said.

Thirty-foot beams were adjusted by using a crane with a cable, trustee Carl Flohr said. A small hole was cut into the roof to allow the cable inside, he said.

Every effort was made to ensure the building and affected room remained preserved as they were, Miller said.

However, "there was no reasonable way to save it and keep the appearance exactly as it was," he said.

The front portion of the building was built by Silas Harry in 1823, making it one of the oldest buildings, if not the oldest one, built for Masonic purposes and still used for those purposes, Miller said. That portion is on the National Register of Historic Places, he said.

Confederate troops, under the command of Brig. Gen. John McCausland, burned most of Chambersburg for failure to pay a ransom. Miller said a Confederate officer riding down Second Street thought he recognized the lodge as being Masonic and asked townspeople about it. That officer stationed men around the lodge to protect it during the burning, and a few neighboring structures were spared as a result.

Miller offers tours of the lodge during the public breakfasts every month, trying to eliminate the idea of Masons as a secret society.

"Our goal is to save this building for the future, not only for Free Masons but for the community," he said.

Word of the campaign is spreading via the Internet, bringing in donations from several states and countries. The nonprofit George Washington Masonic Center Preservation Fund also has applied for grants.

"This is simply the first step of what we anticipate being a long-range program. We think this building is one of the focal points in this community," Miller said.

To learn more about the campaign or to contribute, contact Jay Wentling, master, at 717-414-2968 or wentling06@comcast.net.

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